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The Real Problem With Fast Food

I have previously blogged about the fact that in talking about the obesity problem, we spend more time talking about ‘what’ people do than ‘why’ they do it.

I, for one, am convinced that addressing ‘what’ people do, without addressing ‘why’ people do so, is unlikely to change behaviour or provide any meaningful solutions.

This is perhaps best exemplified by the problem with fast food – which, is often enough, blamed for its putative role in this epidemic.

I have tried to put this idea into the following video (subscribers will have to head to my site to see it).

Appreciate all comments,

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. Great message – I will be doing a post soon on how to make healthier foods more convenient to buy and even prepare!

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  2. Interesting.

    “Kupono” drank too much caffeine, I think, before producing this one. It needs to be slowed down in several places.

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  3. Good presentation. The music distracted my wife while I was watching so I turned the sound off. I agree with finding the why. Breaking the chain of cause and effect is a tried and true method for eliminating root causes. When looking for the ‘because’ for each ‘why’ look for a condition AND a behavior. For example, in my case fast food is conveniently located (condition) AND I left the house without a proper breakfast (behavior). I can’t eliminate the condition, but I can eliminate the behavior if I want to fix the problem badly enough.

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  4. I like it. I like that it stays away from blame or stereotypes about class (I loved the information you provided on the study of fast food and teens).
    One thing I would like to see changed is this phrase “you can do a lot of damage in 20 minutes” — to something slightly less judgmental — like, “it’s easy to eat a whole day’s worth of calories in 20 minutes at a fast food place.”

    Personally, think once someone has decided to eat a fast food place (I would include Starbucks in this), there are two things that could improve how it fits in with the rest of their day.

    One is nutrition labels — not just calories but also protein, sodium, carbs, fats. I know some people hate these and the data shows it doesn’t have much impact on the choices people make in the moment, but it could influence what they eat the rest of the day.

    Another thing would be to have the calories and other nutrition information in their order listed on the receipt. That way, they could adjust the rest of their meals that day or even on a subsequent day to balance.

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  5. Healthy “fast food” I think would also have ot be NOT sold as “healthy.” I swear that something can taste like heaven on Earth and the minute people know it’s good for them, they’ll act like it tastes like cat shit. Seriously. I never understood it. It’s like the reverse of the old saw about how you can make any bottle of wine taste better if you pretend it’s French and cost $20 more than you paid.

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  6. Could not read “The Bottom Line” panel at all. Indeed, some of the panels just moved too fast. Great music, though.

    I’ve taken to carrying a water bottle with me constatntly. (Easy to do in summer.) As well, carrying around a piece of fruit is easy to do, too. That way, if hunger pangs strike while I’m out and about, I can save even more time by eating and drinking wehat I’ve got instead of waiting in the drive thru. –Idling in line wastes so much gas, too!

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  7. Hunger SCREAMS!………….
    Fullness whispers……………
    You have to be paying attention to listen to a whisper. Eating at your desk, in your car, in front of the tv, while you are doing something else doesn’t allow you to hear any whispers. It doesn’t matter if the food is fast or if it is slow if you are not paying attention, you can overeat anything and we are wired to err on the side of overeating given the hundreds of thousands of years of evolution where we barely got enough – where our focus was on finding food, not trying to avoid it. It wasn’t until the green revolution in the 1930s that we had to worry about excess. That is only 3 generations ago. Our bodies haven’t changed. Our environments have.

    Living in today’s world with multiple conflicting priorities doesn’t allow you to hear whispers. Rushing from one place to another in cars on congested highways diverts your attention from whispers too . Trying to sort out a mind boggling amount of information in this computer age diverts us from the wisdom of our bodies. Our bodies cannot lie to us, but we have to be tuned into them to receive the feedback they give us. Pay attention to yourself, your internal reality and your relationship with food and food will nourish you. Allow yourself to focus on what food does for you, not what it does to you.

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  8. I could have read this in a lot less time than it took to watch. But thanks for having something accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people!

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  9. can’t read that fast 😉

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  10. Subway’s Jared?

    In the last 6 months I had 2 2-week travelling periods when I lived on fast food. (Subway, McDonalds, and Tim Hortons. ) I lost weight both times (2 lbs, 4 lbs) I ate 3 meals a day, and I chose carefully.

    I have a harder time sticking to a weight loss – or even weight maintenence – food plan when I’m stuck at home cooking for the family.

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  11. I get tired of the simplicity of blame on fast food. What about all the obese people who do their best to eat good and nutritious food, who NEVER eat fast food, and who exercise to the best of their capability?

    What about carbohydrates? I was edging up toward formal obesity because of bingeing on carbs and sweets — got severely hyperglycemic and almost died. Since then, I have eliminated grain, and other high-carb foods (including the supposedly “healthy” whole grains), and by eating more meat, yogurt and cheese, I’m never hungry and have lost 30 lb. and am now in “normal” BMI (24.0). Plus my lipids have never been better, and my kidneys are functioning fine.

    I think there are those of us who never adapted to the agricultural revolution, and need to eat like hunter-gatherers — meat several times a week, and vegetables whenever we have them, but eliminating most carbs and fruits. And pigging out when the food is there, but eating very sparsely when it isn’t. Of course, this doesn’t happen in modern society, when the grocery store is down the block, but we need to have the self-discipline to do it. There are days when I eat almost nothing, and other days when I get my stomach contentedly full. And it’s working for me.

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  12. This video went so fast that much of the text I could not read, however, it is convenient to blame fast food. If a consumer really took responsability for what the ate would they be super sizing or large sizing there choice. There are medical conditions and medications that prompt weight gain even still the patient should take the inititive to try changing the medications or treating the medical conditions to make things better for themselves. We all who are over weight need to refuse to be given a portion in a resturant that is way too large to be healthy. There are items that are so over the calorie count that they should not be permitted to be served but for those who are not with eating disorders and obese issues realyy need to build a wall around to keep from eating. I have found that building that wall is a whole lot harder than it looks–one of the hardest jobs I have is chosing an eating place. Thanks for the information

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  13. Fascinating approach to present information like this. I don’t agree that the text goes by too fast, but I found that the low-res video impeded fast reading; some of the text was simply too pixelated to read properly. This would be improved by viewing at its native resolution, I’m sure. I also didn’t love the music, but that’s just a personal preference. 🙂

    I think you hit on some perfectly lucid points about fast food that I hadn’t fully considered exactly in that way, and found myself wanting to watch another presentation right afterwards about how to address the taste, cost and convenience of healthier food in my own life. Or maybe you’re just identifying a great business opportunity for a healthy fast food restaurant…?

    Actually, that might be something. Imagine a place which offered honestly healthy choices that were available in a drive-thru. Even if you had to pay a bit more, if it was actually healthy food that came quickly, that could be pretty successful. I think a lot of people go to drive-thrus because of the speed, because they’re in such a hurry.

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  14. Off topic, but I couldn’t find any other way to contact you.
    I’d like to have your reaction to this study, which used an extremely hypocaloric (600 kcal/day) diet to reverse Type 2 diabetes. After a certain amount of time on this diet, the participants went back to a “normal” diet, so I don’t know if the effect would be permanent, but I thought it was interesting.

    Diabetologia DOI 10.1007/s00125-011-2204-7
    Reversal of type 2 diabetes: normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol

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  15. @Sera: extremely hypocaloric (600 kcal/day) diet to reverse Type 2 diabetes

    Starvation is never a permanent solution 🙂

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  16. I have to agree completely with Anonymous about places like Subway, Tim Hortons, A & W and, yes, even McDonalds. You can make some very “healthy” choices at these places. Look at Jared Fogel, the Subway Ambassador, as a prime example.

    For example – at Subway the 6″ Sandwiches with 6 grams of fat or less served on wheat bread with lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers – the ham, oven roasted chicken, roast beef, turkey breast, Subway club, turkey breast & ham and veggie delight are all between 300 – 400 calories.

    McDonald’s Egg McMuffin – 400 calories. Tim Hortons bacon and egg breakfast sandwich – 500 calories. A & W Bacon ‘N Egger – 400 calories.

    So, it’s not so much about the “fast food” itself or even the “fast food” establishments as it is about continuing to make “healthy choices” at these establishments.:)

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  17. Re 600/cal day:
    How many calories a day do patients eat after bariatric surgery?

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  18. @Jim “McDonald’s Egg McMuffin – 400 calories. Tim Hortons bacon and egg breakfast sandwich – 500 calories. A & W Bacon ‘N Egger – 400 calories.”

    I agree Jim, the omly time I have even a remote idea of the calories on my plate is at a fast food restaurant!

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  19. @anonymous “How many calories a day do patients eat after bariatric surgery?”

    About 1400 – 1700 per day

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  20. I think I have a pretty good grasp of how many calories are on my plate – at least, when I estimate a restaurant meal I’m usually within 20% of the actual number. Funny – when watching this video and it paused before listing the 3 reasons people eat fast food, I thought: advertising, habit, office lunches. Someone else was recently saying she’d pick up chipotle on the way home out of convenience and cost, but I’m doubtful. It’s an excuse, it’s what people tell themselves to justify what they want. Stopping anywhere, even if it’s on my normal route home and is a drive thru (chipotle is not) takes 10 minutes. I’m sure I can list 15 simple, tasty meals that cost less than a chipotle salad, take less active time to make, half of which can be stored in your office desk. Canned soup. Sandwich with luncheon meat, tuna, or peanut butter. a couple of fried eggs. My grocery store sells a huge variety of frozen veggies, including stir-fry mixes, which can be cooked in the microwave. Healthy frozen dinners, like Kashi. Cereal, or oatmeal with frozen berries (or dried fruit) and a cup of protein mix. An apple. None of these is super-nutritious, but have you looked at the nutrition for a fast food burger or calzone? It’s basically flour and fat, with less protein than a small can of tuna. And then, the cheapest, tastiest meal of all: intentional leftovers.

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